OT signed; 49ers have net gain in free agency

The 49ers want to build their roster through the draft, and they appear to be setting up themselves well for the future. While the 49ers signed six free agents within the first week of the official signing period, they added just one free agent who is expected to count as a net gain in the formula for awarding compensatory picks.

Yet, the 49ers lost four free agents who might qualify as losses: offensive linemen Justin Smiley and Kwame Harris, defensive lineman Marques Douglas and, possibly, running back Maurice Hicks.

That means the 49ers could receive as many as three compensatory picks for the 2009 draft. The 49ers' only signing that is expected to count toward the formula is defensive end Justin Smith, who signed a six-year, $45 million contract with the 49ers on the second day of free agency.

The 49ers officially signed free agent wide receiver Bryant Johnson, a former first-round draft pick, to a one-year deal on Monday, but it remains unclear whether his signing counts as a "free agent gained" for 2009 compensatory picks. The 49ers likely structured the deal so that it wouldn't trigger the formula used for a "gain." Otherwise, the 49ers would essentially be swapping a potential extra draft pick for a player on a one-year contract with the team.

"We accomplished more than I thought we could in free agency from the standpoint of the unrestricted guys we signed," 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said. "There were great guys that got cut by teams that I'm very excited about."

The 49ers added running back DeShaun Foster (Panthers), receiver Isaac Bruce (Rams) and return specialist Allen Rossum (Steelers) after they were released by their respective teams. Those signings do not count against the 49ers when it comes to assigning compensatory selections.

The 49ers try to use free agency as a tool to fill needs, while using the draft to build the roster with the best players available. McCloughan said free agency served its purpose for the 49ers, though they're not finished, yet.

The 49ers need more depth for their offensive line, and McCloughan said he expects to sign some offensive linemen in the next couple weeks to bolster the unit. Also, the 49ers are expected to use a couple draft picks on offensive linemen.

McCloughan began that process Monday, when the team signed free agent offensive tackle Qasim Mitchell, who has not played in a NFL game since 2005. Mitchell brings imposing size to the table - he's listed at 6-foot-5 and 347 pounds - and will attempt to revive his career with a team looking for depth at tackle after losing Harris, who recently signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Mitchell came into the NFL in 2002 as an undrafted free agent with the Cleveland Browns. He played the next three seasons with the Chicago Bears, seeing action in 22 games with 16 starts, including 14 starts in 2004. He went to training camp with the Carolina Panthers in 2006 and the Arizona Cardinals in 2007, but did not make the regular-season roster of either team.

The 49ers are almost certain to pick up one or more offensive linemen in the April draft. McCloughan said he is thrilled the draft is so deep in offensive linemen this year.

"I'm not worried about the offensive line, whatsoever," McCloughan said. "I'm excited about the fact that with our first, second, third and fourth picks, there are going to be good players sitting there on the offensive line."

And, while the 49ers are essentially done in free agency after Johnson unexpectedly fell into their laps, McCloughan said the team will continue to keep an eye out for veteran talent that can help the team.

"If, all of a sudden, there is another DeShaun Foster or Allen Rossum or Isaac Bruce that comes across the line, we're going to sign them in a heartbeat for the price that we think is right because all we're doing is making our team better," McCloughan said. "It's getting us depth, it's getting us good football players. So, hopefully, we're not done.

"If someone gets cut or there's a good football player that we think can come help us out, then we're going to sign him in a heartbeat. The whole idea of the 49ers organization is that we're going to make our teams as good as they can be right now. So, if we can make our team better by the price we think is right, we're going to do it."

Niners Digest Top Stories